Changing seats can improve office dynamics

11/04/2013 5:33 PM

11/05/2013 10:49 PM

Back when I practiced law, I worked for a firm that periodically shuffled offices among attorneys.

Junior associates were never going to get the corner office, but the “lottery” often involved people walking around counting the tiles on the ceilings to make sure they received the biggest piece of real estate they could. Equally as important was making sure their office was close to attorneys they already knew and liked.

Turns out we had the right idea. Or not.

Apparently, studies show that where you sit at work influences whom you bond with and how those bonds affect how you do your job.

Makes sense to me. Your information will be only as good as the reliability of the people you get the information from. And we already know bad moods and attitudes are contagious. Both studies and common sense tell us that.

And when you add “seating charts” to the component of people bonding by comfort level, it could also explain why some pockets of a workplace are disgruntled even when the issues of conflict change.

Employers can’t arbitrarily decide which employees will bond — as much as they may want to. And while some companies do shake up the workplace from time to time with a shift in seating and offices, I’m sure there are studies that show the folly of doing this too frequently.

But a manager or supervisor can stay on top of creating more opportunities for workers to mingle, communicate, talk and break past self-imposed boundaries.

How many times have we witnessed people at work who have close, loyal bonds yet on the surface look as if they couldn’t have anything in common? Usually, it’s probably because they worked together in such close proximity, individuals ceased to become stereotypes and just turned out to be the flesh and blood friend you’ve overheard speak to family or you laughed with over a good pet story or the latest sporting celebration.

Familiarity doesn’t necessarily breed contempt.

Grade and high schools have an annual event in October called “Mix It Up” Day where kids are encouraged to sit with different kids at another seat in the school cafeteria. The purpose is to break down prejudices and assumptions.

Corporate America could stand to take more of that approach in encouraging and making it easy for its teams to just mix it up.

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